Welcome to Heavy Music HQ’s first reviews of 2019, which include releases from Beaten To Death, Feral, Festerday, Gandalf’s Owl, Internal Chronicles, John Garcia, Legion Of The Damned, Mark Deutrom, Plague Years, Vanha and Yatra.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Beaten To Death – Agronomicon (Mas-Kina)
Agronomicon is the fourth album from Norwegian grinders Beaten To Death, whose lineup includes current or former members of bands such as Tsjuder, Insense, Grimfist and She Said Destroy.
Beaten To Death incorporate typical grindcore elements such as short songs and bludgeoning intensity, but what makes them unique is how they inject melody into their music. Neck snapping brutality shifts to memorable riffs and catchiness before the chaos resumes. Songs like the title track and “Extremely Run To The Hills” blend unintelligible vocals and blastbeats with groovy guitar riffs. The contrast works well, adding moments of accessibility to the extremity.
Feral – Flesh For Funerals Eternal (Transcending Obscurity)
The Swedish death metal band Feral‘s third album Flesh For Funerals Eternal features the return of guitarist Sebastian LeJon, who was originally with the group in 2007-2008, prior to the release of their debut.
LeJon and fellow axeman Markus Kindahl are front and center, delivering potent riffs and solos. The band varies the tempo from blistering assaults to mid-paced groovers, adding variety to the proceedings. Tracks like “Of Gods No Longer Invoked” feature lengthy instrumental sections, shining the spotlight on Feral’s musicianship. It’s rock solid death metal with some original twists.
Festerday – Iihtallan (Season Of Mist)
The Finnish band Festerday have been around since the early ’90s under various names, and have issued several demos, splits and EPs. Iihtallan is their first full-length.
Festerday play gore-soaked death metal, evident in song titles like “Edible Excrement,” “Vomiting Pestilence” and “Let Me Entertain Your Entrails.” Worshiping at the altar of the old school, the band deliver mostly ominous, mid-paced songs, periodically ramping up the tempo. Kena Stromsholm’s guttural vocals are fierce and emotional, utilizing a variety of pitches from deep growls to higher pitched yells. They don’t tread much new ground, but their execution is on point.
Gandalf’s Owl – Who’s the Dreamer? (Inferno)
Gandolfo Ferro is the vocalist for Italian power/progressive metal bands Opera and Heimdall, but he is much more than just a singer. Gandalf’s Owl is his solo project, and features Ferro on not just vocals, but all instruments as well. Debut album Who’s the Dreamer promises to be an alluring journey through prog rock motifs, at times reminding one of Pink Floyd.
Billed as ambient progressive rock, Who’s the Dreamer is an ambitious yet accessible foray into soundtrack-like dreamscapes, lush with progressive rock mainstays such as guitar solos and intricate keyboards, but also featuring many odd atmospheric movements and psychedelic weirdness. Added together, the combination keeps the listeners on their toes.
Internal Chronicles – Crimson Storm (Guts’n’Blood)
Croatia may not be considered a metal hotspot, but there are actually quite a few bands that hail from there. One of them is Internal Chronicles, a one man project helmed by NoOne. Crimson Storm is his second album.
It’s a concept record about love, which is most genres is a typical subject, but in metal that’s not as common. The songs are regal black/doom with harsh vocals low in the mix. In addition to intense metal, there are quiet moments such as a piano interlude in “Crimson Maiden”. Songs like “The Life’s Cure” are mostly black metal, while songs such as the title track are atmospheric and cinematic. “You Are” even has some melodic singing. Even with such disparate styles, it’s still a cohesive work.
John Garcia – John Garcia and the Band of Gold (Napalm)
Two years after 2017’s fun acoustic album, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues, legendary desert rock frontman John Garcia is back with an electrified band, his Band of Gold, and together with drummer Greg Saenz, bassist Mike Pygmie, and guitarist Ehren Groban, he’s ready to reclaim his position atop the stoner rock throne.
John Garcia and the Band of Gold pulls no punches, rocking us with slow- and mid-tempo burners throughout, some of which are fuzzed-up versions of the acoustic songs we heard on Coyote (“Kentucky II” = “Give Me 250ml” and “Cheyletiella” = “Kylie”). The band is on point throughout, and Garcia’s vocals are timeless. This is a record that’s sure to please fans of both Garcia and the stoner/desert genres in general, and an excellent way to kick off 2019.
Legion of the Damned – Slaves of the Shadow Realm (Napalm)
On Slaves Of The Shadow Realm, their eighth full-lenth, Dutch crushers Legion of the Damned play a form of thrash that is similar to both Teutonic metal giants like Kreator, and also Slayer. This leads to a sound that is somewhat fresh, but somewhat dated as well. There are standout tracks like “Charnel Confession” that make a big impact. This particular song combines some nice melody with huge chops to great effect. The songs bring massive riffs and this leads to a pretty powerful sounding recording.
This is some of the most impactful thrash I’ve heard in some time. It has a nice bite to it that gives it a thrilling feeling. The only issue is that similar music has been performed in the past, but Legion of the Damned overcome this with somewhat different song structures. These are absolutely epic thrash tracks that have the extra added ingredient to make them even more appealing. Still there is the feeling that this has been done before and better as well when the songs start to sound similar to one another. It all leads to a very good recording that falls short of being outstanding.
Mark Deutrom – The Blue Bird (Season Of Mist)
Mark Deutrom was the bassist for the Melvins from 1993 to 1998, and has released some solo albums since then. The Blue Bird is his first solo release in almost six years. He handles vocals and all the instruments except drums, which are played by RL Hulsman.
It’s a varied rock album, ranging from the urgent “Futurist Manifesto” to the dreamy “Radiant Gravity” to the doomy “O Ye Of Little Faith.” There are numerous instrumentals, but there are some tracks with vocals such as the subdued “Hell Is A City” and the melodic “The Happiness Machine.” There’s even a sax solo on “They Have Won.” While there are some heavy songs, there are also a lot of mellow moments, making for a diverse listen.
Plague Years – Unholy Infestation (Seeing Red)
After issuing their self-titled debut EP last year, Detroit thrashers Plague Years are back with another extended play, the six track Unholy Infestation.
Plague Years play old-school style thrash, drawing influences from both Bay Area legends like Slayer along with Teutonic bands such as Destruction. While they are more than capable of playing at a high octane pace, they also bring down the tempo on songs like the opening title track and “Outer Darkness” to give the music an ominous vibe. “Taker Of Life” keeps a breakneck pace for most of its length, but there are some slower moments in it as well. While there’s not a lot of originality, there’s ample variety to keep the listener engaged.
Vanha – Melancholia (Black Lion)
Jan Johansson’s vehicle of despondent doom, Vanha return with sophomore effort Melancholia. Besides dishing the heavy metallic drops expected from doom bands, sole instrumentalist Johansson utilizes classical instrumentation to create mood, melody and pace. The deliberation of each movement perfectly conveys the sad aura that envelops the album. A chugging guitar section on “Storm of Grief” nearly brings the album to a mid pace. The harmonies such as the violin (think My Dying Bride on “The Sorrowful” or the guitar harmony on “The Road” define the album.
Death/doom albums sometimes overdo the length of their songs, causing these tracks to drag on, but that is not the case with this record. The average song weighs in around seven minutes. Each section is memorable and repeats but Vanha keeps each track interesting and moving forward. The harmonies, dynamics, atmosphere and oppressive guitar keeps me coming back to this album.
Yatra – Death Ritual (Grimoire)
Death Ritual, the debut album from Maryland trio Yatra, revels in the space between notes. Feedback becomes an accomplice to the sonic crimes the band commits with their trippy doom metal. There are nods to the past, a hint of a riff Tony Iommi would approve of, though the haziness that clouds over the album takes a cue from the stoner metal bands of the present.
Yatra settle into a pattern with each song: a slow intro, driven by a lone guitar or bass, followed by punctual rhythm and distorted vocals giving the music a grim standard. It’s a suitable template they align with, though the approach lends itself to repetition by the second half of Death Ritual.